Suffering for Art; Big Venues and Music

Last night I and small group of others from NPR Music went to see/hear Radiohead at the Nissan Pavilion, about an hour outside of Washington, D.C. The band was as amazing as I hoped they would be, but the venue nearly killed it.

Nissan Pavilion is one of those big, outdoor venues, with a partially covered section. It's one of the worst venues I know of to get in to and to leave. I could have driven three hours to a show in Philly and been home sooner. An hour and half just to get out of a parking lot is outrageous, (and for some it was much longer) as was the two hours getting in to it. (many including our producer Robin Hilton turned around and gave up after many frustrating hours.)

There was a torrential rain last night and the crowd in the pavilion... well, we were all drenched and freezing from the cold, stormy wind. But we were the lucky ones; we didn't have lawn seats.

The night air was filled by a band playing remarkable music to a very uncomfortable and dedicated crowd. The lights were great, the sound was just okay. There were two encores. (Here's a clip from the show someone posted on youtube):

I love this band as much as anyone, but I felt myself hoping the encores would stop so I could get in my car and go home and get out of my cold, wet clothes.

When I finally did get in my car, we all sat there shivering and wondered how many other bands we would do this for. I had trouble thinking of anyone other than Radiohead.

Understanding that suffering is, of course, a relative term here (this isn't Myanmar), what's the most you've endured to see your favorite band?

And big venues, do you avoid them or love them?

and this just in from a band that clearly cared and felt bad for the crowd last night.



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I have been to big venues and festivals across the country. I have never experienced anything like this. I will not avoid big venues, I will however never return to the Nissan Pavillion.

And I thought the sound was EPIC. Lots of airy, orchestral full sounds (clearly the result of Greenwood).

Sent by Rubaggio | 3:29 PM | 5-12-2008

oh, can't even imagine to experience Radiohead gig this way.
I've been lucky so far. My biggest "suffering" was when I forgot that I can't have food in my bag and I had to throw my fav cookies to get to see Damien Rice's gig. Ridiculous, isn't it. :))

Sent by Lenka Bliss | 3:46 PM | 5-12-2008

Big venues are one thing, but a very real and under-played cost of loving music defines the experience of concert-going in many places in this country: the road trip.

In my life, I have lived in semi-rural Arkansas and now a largish-yet-totally-isolated suburban setting in West Texas. At times, seeing a band we loved in Dallas or Albuquerque or Oklahoma City, Little Rock or St. Louis or Oxford (or even "nearby" in Memphis) was a decision to commute anywhere from 2-7 hours round trip. It also dictated that many little things people sometimes take for granted at shows, like the surprise of a cheap bar, or a third encore must often be forsaken for the nullifying duties of a long car trip home. Not to mention the danger of driving on secluded, often poorly-kept highways in the dead of night. I know of too many people for whom the decision to see a favorite band resulted in near injury, physical harm, and even death.

Not everybody is from New York or Seattle or even Jacksonville or Kansas City, but today the access to new and wonderful sounds is easier than ever online. Too see live music, the single biggest factor separating audience from art remains the price (in both time and gas) of the open road.

Sent by Brendan K. | 4:00 PM | 5-12-2008

I agree with Bob. Radiohead is one of the few bands worth suffering for in the cold and rain. U2 is another. I wish that I could have seen the concert last night, however I was not one of the lucky ones to make it to the show. My friends and I had lawn seating, but we weren't able to get into the Pavilion. After exiting the interstate at around 7:00, a time that we all thought would be ample to get to the venue, we proceeded to sit in our car in bumper-to-bumper traffic until 10:45. At first, the traffic seemed normal. Then after an hour, then two, we soon came to the realization that due to the torrential downpours, the line of cars were being detoured around the flooded roads (or at least that's what we hoped). Today, one of my friends mapped our route from last night on Google Earth and surmised that we had been led at least 6.5 miles out of the way from Nissan Pavilion.

We kept checking the radio stations for any information on whether the show had been cancelled. The rain was so bad that none of us could imagine that the concert was actually occurring. But there was nothing. Not even Twitter was tweeting. All we could do was slog along in the car line, coming to one dead end after another. We never saw the entrance to the park, and we eventually turned around. As we were leaving the area, we passed at least 2 miles of cars still waiting to find the show.

I love Radiohead, and I would pay to see them again. Due to mismanagement, traffic snafus, and lack of information, last night's debacle has made me never want to travel out to Bristow again. Hopefully some of us can get our money back.

Sent by Jalyn Henton | 4:12 PM | 5-12-2008

The Tweeter Center (or Susquehanna Bank Center as it is now called I think)in Camden, NJ sounds eerily similar to your experience at the Nissan Pavilion. I've stood in the rain on the lawn to see Isis open for Tool, and I'll be seeing Radiohead there in August after swearing I never would go back. The things we'll do eh? It's probably the only band left that could get me to go back.

Sent by Brian | 4:13 PM | 5-12-2008

be glad you had pavilion seats:

Sent by ryan97ou | 4:21 PM | 5-12-2008

We spent 4 hours in traffic trying to reach the radiohead show at the Nissan Pavilion. Mapquest said it would take 45 minutes. Eventually, we turned around without ever reaching the venue. How disorganized! They clearly weren't prepared to handle the traffic to their rural venue. However, they had no problem taking our money. I will never go to Nissan Pavilion again.

Sent by frank | 5:09 PM | 5-12-2008

As one of the rain-drenched concert goers, I can easily say I wouldn't brave the elements like this for any other band.

Compared to those in the lawn, those who had to turn away and those who waited so much longer to get out of the lot after the show (not to mention the saddest kids I've ever seen who locked their keys in the car and were standing out in the rain the entire time we were sitting in our car waiting to move from our spot), it could have been a LOT worse.

While the music itself was fantastic and the lighting stunning, it was still hard to enjoy completely in those conditions.

Sent by Mike Katzif, NPR | 8:01 PM | 5-12-2008

As a big radiohead fan and a pretty passionate believer in the environment the worst I'll suffer is a twelve hours night bus up to Tokyo to see them. I did the same between Sydney and Melbourne when I was living in Perth and they only played shows in those two cities. But this time good tickets, early arrival at a good time of year and indoor venues mean I won't suffer the fate you guys did in DC. The worst would be if I was late buying tickets and was stuck in row X at the side of the stage, as in the Melbourne show cut short by Thom being ill.

That venue kind of goes against Radiohead saying they would play accessible venues though. I can't think of many other bands I would travel this far for though, let alone suffer that kind of battering from the weather and a bad venue.

Sent by Louis | 8:04 PM | 5-12-2008

The most i've endured to see my favorite band was 7 hours in a car yesterday. and i didn't get to see them. It was such a let down.

i wish they wouldn't play in places like nissan pavilion. And if the all songs considered staff read this, i think you should be aware (and share in your program), there is an online petition to get our money back (for those of us who didn't make it to the show due to bad organizing). here's the link

Sent by Diego de los Rios | 11:22 PM | 5-12-2008

in bristow, you're just up the creek. seated tix were never kinder than last night's; for my first radiohead show, i couldn't have asked for a truer, grittier experience! i sincerely felt i was going to lose at least three toes. the lights were gorgeous and revived the heart, as did the band's radiating peace and presence throughout. a very beautiful heartened current made the show just what it needed to be for everyone who could make it/take it/were there in spirit.

we were in total and complete awe of the strength of the lawnies; of what tremendous constitution they were! "the amazing race" should come recruiting. i feel thom might even have commented that he wasn't sure if there was a band he'd brave the elements for they way they had, but i was in a slight delirium. he dedicated "fake plastic trees" to all stuck on the roads.

mad hobbling for heat is priceless.

james taylor and wilco are the two i'd monsoon-it lawn-style for, i think. it'd be poetic.

no matter where you were, evenings like this one are true exercises: patience, strength, gratitude, and humility. all from the Mother on her special day :)

Sent by jehan | 2:10 AM | 5-13-2008

I'd heard all the horror stories about Nissan. The only time I went there, and the only circumstances under which I would even consider it for half a nanosecond, was to see Bruce Springsteen on the Pete Seeger tour.

I met my friend at her horse stable nearby earlier, we drove to the show and there was no traffic jam. We paid $$ to park in whatever they call that rip-off parking lot near the exit, and got on the road with no problem after the show was over. After the encore.

I have no idea whether we did anything right or whether the gods were just smiling, so I'm not taking credit for having magical powers over Nissan's parking lot.

Payback time was a few months later, at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, NJ.

It was a dark, stormy, long, long night ....

Sent by Maggy Sterner | 7:58 AM | 5-13-2008

My favorites don't really play big venues, so it hasn't been and issue. My last big open air shows were HFStivals in the 1990s. That said, I would sit on a sheet of ice and slush to hear Stereolab or Air live.

Sent by Derrick Foy | 9:24 AM | 5-13-2008

I hate big venues for that one reason: abysmal sound! I grew up going to big grandiose rock shows and have seen The Greats (the eagles, the stones) and the greats-in-my-mind (chicago, huey lewis and the news (my first concert at age 5!), aerosmith, and the list goes on).

But the worst conditions: Bobby Dodd stadium (Georgia Tech's football field), in the middle of a January ice storm in Atlanta in 1994-- to see the greatest band I've ever experienced, the band that has had a lasting impact on my life: Pink Floyd, Division Bell tour.

There was literally ice on the metal bleachers, it was intermittently raining and sleeting, the people behind us were literally smoking crack, there was more pot than you could handle, and we stood. FOR A FOUR HOUR CONCERT.

And I don't regret it. Not for one moment. It was uncomfortable. Miserable even...but to hear the entirety of The Wall, and then the rest of my favorites with such an amazing light and laser show, the inflatable pig, all of it. Totally worth it.

And I love that I was only 12. Thanks Dad for making me love rock music!

I, however, am 26 now. The biggest venue I am ever in now is at a, gasp!, 1200 person capacity. I'm in a singer/songwriter mode in my life and I love it. 35 people at a show? Brilliant.

Sent by anna | 10:04 AM | 5-13-2008

OK I can't believe I'm about to admit to this over the WWW, but I'm a really big Hall & Oates fan. Don't listen to them as much as I used to, but in junior high my best friend and I were their biggest fans.

We went to see them at an outdoor show for "Freedom Weekend Aloft", this hot-air balloon festival in Greenville, SC. We got there really early because we wanted to get good seats, and sat out in the pouring rain for SIX HOURS just waiting to see them. Not to mention the rain that kept on throughout the entire show.

It was all worth it though. We were front and center (we were actually the first people who showed up), and it really felt like, at least in our 15-year-old brains, Daryl and John were singing just for us. Cheesy, I know... but some really fond memories!

Sent by Kim | 11:30 AM | 5-13-2008

Steely Dan's "Alive in America" tour was the first and last concert I will ever see at Nissan Pavilion. Here's a big raspberry to Nissan, Live Nation (the venue owner) and Prince William County, Va., where this turkey is located.

Sent by Richard | 2:14 PM | 5-13-2008

I love comfort--I am lazy--i craze warmth--ease etc etc but i would give all this up and more--hours and hours of sheer torture in any nasty, stinky, drug-infested venue anywhere on earth just to hear/watch ELVIS COSTELLO--i have had the good fortune of seeing Elvis many times always in relative comfort--small venues etc

Sent by Catherine Judd | 7:21 PM | 5-13-2008

Bob! It took me four hours to get into the parking lot of Nissan due to a car catching fire, literally in front of me! I didn't even make it to the venue in time to see my beloved Radiohead! It's all good though because I scored some free tickets to the New Jersey show! I'm glad you made it though and I'm sure the show was amazing!

Sent by Maddie | 2:43 PM | 5-14-2008

It sounds like the rain played a big part in the Radiohead fiasco on Sunday, but having been to Nissan Pavilion a few times in the past, I can confirm that this is pretty much par for the course, even when the weather is fine. I went to see Coldplay there a few years ago on a perfectly sunny summer day, and it took almost 3 hours to get to from I-66 to the venue; a distance of probably six or seven miles. We ended up missing the opening act (Rilo Kiley, who we really wanted to see) and to add insult to injury, we had to park about a mile from the arena in a rock lot (where I honestly thought the rocks were going to puncture the tires), even though there was a closer grass lot that was still empty after the show. I have vowed never to go back and I completely agree with the people who say that Live Nation, the county, and the state should all be severly faulted for this poorly planned venue. What's a real shame though is that a lot of big acts end up playing there. It's just not worth it though.

Sent by Brian | 3:52 PM | 5-14-2008

The conditions were truly as difficult as stated, but hardship makes way for heroism. I was rescued from the rain by a guy named Johnny. I was standing on some crowded stairs in the miserable rain. A river was flowing on the sidewalk below. The stairs were crammed with people. I was on the bottom step, just above the river. Johnny forged the river and asked me if I wanted to go into the Pavilion. I said "Yes!" He said he would come back in a minute and he did -- with a ticket for me to use. He brought me in and I stood with him. I discovered rows of seats. Thank you Johnny. You were a hero.

Sent by Marne | 4:34 AM | 5-15-2008

I took my mother to this show, thinking that Radiohead would blow her away and she would walk away an instant fan. She knew little of the band outside of a mixtape I made for her after I saw them at Bonnaroo, but she liked them well enough. At least well-enough to humor her 24-year old daughter and go see a show with her on Mother's Day.

We had lawn seats to the Nissan show.

After driving in from the Va Beach area (about a 4 1/2 hour drive) and parking in the farthest parking lot away from the actual pavilion, we made it inside around 7:30. We headed right over to the 'Beer Here!' sign to chug some Coors Lights to give us something to do other than be cold and wet. I had a brilliant idea to wear flip flops, and by the time we made it to the back end of the muddy lawn, my toes were blue.

I would love to say that we made it through the end and looked at eachother with a 'that was awesome!' expression. Unfortunately, we couldn't really hear that well and since the screens weren't on, the amazing light show I've seen in a few YouTube clips just looked like red camera flashes from where we were standing. We did make up to the front of the lawn by the end of the first encore, and screaming 'rain down on me!' with the rest of the lawn... But, ultimately, I found myself wishing it would just end. My poor mother... she was SUCH good sport about it, and had it not been for her, I think I would've thrown some sort of tantrum.

But at least we made it into the venue, as flooded as it was. I feel so sad for everyone that didn't make it in...

Would I do it again? Sure. But not right away. And probably only for Radiohead.

I'm not sure about my mom, though.

Sent by Nikki | 4:42 PM | 5-15-2008

Luckily I haven't had to suffer too much, although heading to a Ben Folds show in downtown Dallas near Fair Park (used to be called Smirnoff), we spent about 2 hours just sitting...and we were late due to this and missed most of Folds (the only part I cared about).

I'm not a huge fan of big venues mainly due to these parking issues, parking costs, and super crowds. I will see a band at Nokia or somewhere big like that if I really love them. Living in the DFW area is nice, though, since there are so many great bands who often play in the smaller venues. I saw the Shins at the Palladium, Built to Spill at Ridglea, and Rogue Wave and Doug Burr at Haileys in Denton. Parking was free, few crowds, and I met the band sometimes.

Sent by Shannon | 9:04 PM | 5-15-2008

metro-accessing fans unite:

"Radiohead - Make Up Show in DC Verizon Wireless Center"

Sent by jehan | 1:45 PM | 5-16-2008

Same thing happened with Radiohead in the Dallas show!!
The center (ex Smirnoff Center) is AWFUL for very crowded performances. A normal trip to the place wouldn't take more than 45 minutes from where I live, but last night we spent OVER 2:30 HOURS to get to a parking spot... worst organization ever. Anyway, it was a great show despite the venue's inability to handle its max capacity. I can't believe they even rip you off with a $15 parking fee.

I personally prefer smaller venues, except for big festivals like Austin City Limits where there is better organization for getting there (like buses running on a constant round-trip between downtown Austin and the park).

Sent by Kaiser Soze | 2:57 PM | 5-19-2008

Coming in late on this one, but I just had to say that I completely empathize with you guys since I had the same experience in Charlotte on the 10th. Drove from Knoxville and thought we had allowed for plenty of time, only to find that a 4 mile drive from hotel to venue took 2 hrs. Missed the opening band. Were "lawnies," but at least there was only a light drizzle.

I've gotten so used to small clubs that gigantic amphitheaters kind of depress me. This was definitely the largest show I'd been to in 10 years, since R.E.M. And I love Radiohead, but...I'm sorry to say that I don't know if the overall experience was worth it for me. I guess I feel that crazy-huge shows like that make me feel disconnected from the band-I've gotten spoiled on those small shows.

And apparently Thom Yorke is 2 inches tall. :)

Sent by Tracy | 9:38 PM | 5-20-2008

I went to see Huey Lewis & the News (it was a looong time ago and I was younger then!) at a concert somewhere between Milwaukee and Madison that ended up being one of the biggest of the summer. We got lost, ended up so far back on the lawn that we could hardly see the video screens much less the band and missed the openers entirely. Afterwards, we stayed for something like 8 encores (they basically did a full set acoustically with the openers), went out to the parking lot, ate the picnic we planned for before the show, played frisbee awhile, and cars were still in line to leave the parking lot. I enjoyed the concert, but it was a lot like listening to a live CD - with a picnic in a parking lot.

Sent by Ann V. | 10:48 AM | 5-21-2008

I saw Radiohead last weekend both in Houston and Dallas and thank goodness I didn't have the distractions of rain and cold to keep me from enjoying the shows. I don't like outdoor venues and prefer the nice roomy indoor arenas. I live in Arkansas and to see a good show, I usually have to drive 5 or more hours. (see Brendan's comment at the top - that's the same story for me). The great experiences for me, though, have been that I always meet great people at the shows and meeting music fans who will drive and fly just to be there, because they know, like me, that this is special.

Radiohead was very special those two nights and it would have been worth it even if it rained all night.

Sent by Shelley | 6:54 PM | 5-27-2008

The older I get, the less interested I am in "large" venues. I see ALOT of live music, but mostly in restuarants, small clubs, festivals. I prefer the more intimate settings, and just don't feel comfortable with the big crowds.

Sent by Tina | 9:45 PM | 6-3-2008